My wife read me this quote out of Goldsworthy’s book, According to Plan , last night and I thought it was helpful in thinking through what was happening in the Garden.
In Genesis 1:28 it is implied that we are created to make real choices between real options, even though this freedom is bound by the prescription to be fruitful and rule the earth. Without the freedom to make real choices it would be impossible to rule. In recognition of this, most English versions of the Bible translate Genesis 2:16 as permission to “freely eat” of all the trees in the garden. There is no “freely” in the Hebrew text which, in fact, uses the same construction here that is used in verse 17, “you will surely die.” In the context we see that Adam and Eve have the freedom to choose what to eat from all the trees, but they have no freedom as to the consequences if they eat of the one forbidden tree.
Thus, with freedom and responsibility comes a test of obedience in the prohibition placed on eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nothing in the text suggests that the fruit of this tree (which is never referred to as an apple tree!) has some magical quality which will produce the knowledge of good and evil in anyone who eats it. This would be completely out of character for biblical literature. It is more likely that God designates the tree as off limits as the means of showing the difference between good and evil. The choice for Adam and Eve was not between ignorance and the knowledge of good and evil, but between remaining good and becoming evil themselves. The nature of the test was such that whatever choice they made they would know right and wrong through their personal response to God. God is not a force or some other impersonal power. No matter how hard it is for us to conceive of God as person without at the same time reducing him to a superhuman being, the Bible consistently refers to him in personal terms. He is the source of personhood. (p. 98)
In essence, Goldsworthy is saying that the fruit itself was not the issue that ejected Adam and Eve out of the Garden. Rather, it was their reaching their hand out and taking of the fruit. “Knowledge” does not have to refer to the metaphysical, but it can also refer to the experiential knowing (cf. Gen 4:1, 17, 25; Deut 34:10; Judges 19:25; Ps. 20:6; 41:11).
Therefore, the spotlight shines not on the tree, but on how Adam and Eve will live their lives. Will they obey? Or will they know evil out of their present experience of good? Taken this way, it helps to get into the Genesis author’s mind. This gives an even clearer picture of the original state of man and his rebellion because the issue is not God tempting Adam and Eve. We know that God does not tempt (James 1:13). Instead, Adam and Eve are in a covenant relationship with God, which has blessings (from all the trees they may eat) and its stipulations (from this one tree you may not eat). [[If you doubt this, William Dumbrell has a good treatment of this in Covenant and Creation, especially ch.1]]. So the issue is whether the man and woman will remain trusting the goodness of God or throw it away for the putrid fruit of self-governance.